If I were to have a loved one arrested and imprisoned for a serious crime in Russia, I would do whatever it takes to bring my relative safely back to the United States – even if it meant summoning influential leaders who might not be popular in that country, but would be respected by President Vladimir Putin enough for negotiations.
By now, many of us are aware of the critical situation surrounding WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Video released by Russia’s Federal Customs Service showed Griner going through security at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow last month and the drug paraphernalia found in her luggage.
If convicted, Griner faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for “illegally crossing a customs border with illegal narcotics” — up to 20 years — if the amount is more than 2.5 grams, said Tom Firestone, an international crime attorney and compliance officer Affairs. ESPN also noted that Firestone served as legal counsel to the US Department of Justice at the US Embassy in Moscow for eight years.
Lawmakers have said they face the difficult task of bringing Griner home. Even US Rep. John Garamendi, whose district is in Solano County, recently told CNN that the United States has no diplomatic ties with Russia. Garamendi doesn’t know if Griner’s open identification as LGBT would affect her case. Perhaps Griner could be one of the solutions during various negotiations, he added, noting that Russia also has strict LGBT rules and laws.
The WNBA was established in 1997. Eighty percent of their players are black and have a strong LGBTQ presence. The League remains silent on Griner’s position so as not to jeopardize its efforts to bring her back to the United States.
In the ESPN interview, Firestone said he believes Griner should confess to the prosecution if she’s guilty and let the attorney try to reach a settlement with the prosecutor. His fear is that if the situation gets too political, she will be at the mercy of Putin, who will use her as a bargaining chip rather than the criminal justice system.
Griner has thrived as an athlete in Russia’s economy. Demanding Putin’s release, protesting and signing petitions, however, will raise awareness of the issue but will not persuade the Russian government to release her in the midst of a war.
Many have argued that Griner was in Russia to supplement her WNBA earnings. Griner is one of the highest-paid WNBA players with a $221,000 contract, unendorsed, which likely pushes her annual salary to half a million dollars or more.
Experts say the WNBA doesn’t generate the revenue or audience that the NBA does, making it impossible to pay players similar salaries to NBA players. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a 2021 interview that “the WNBA is struggling to grow franchise values, attendance has lagged, and media rights fees have not grown exponentially like other leagues.” She said it’s important to pay players fairly, but you need an economic model to support that through marketing and merchandising. She wants to lead the league from survival to success.
If LeBron James or Steph Curry were in a Russian prison, we would see non-stop media coverage. Just her name and face bring in revenue. Imagine an average American who would get no coverage without significant advocacy. In the midst of war, however, a low-key approach may be the best way to avoid the situation becoming more political and damaging to Griner.
— The Vacaville author is a social issues advocate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
https://www.thereporter.com/2022/03/18/danette-mitchell-no-easy-answers-for-wnba-star-in-russia/ No easy answers for WNBA star in Russia – The Vacaville Reporter